Special Collections: A Digital Exhibit

Kate Greenaway: Illustrated Works   [1879-1889]

Kate Greenaway (1846-1901)

Kate Greenaway
(1846-1901)

Children’s book illustrator Kate Greenaway will always evoke a world nostalgically linked to long lost ideals of purity and innocence. Her work is deeply rooted in romantic visions of an idyllic childhood –uncorrupted by the ills of modern industry and adult life. Recurrent subjects and settings are children at play, gardens and bucolic landscapes. Every single detail is crafted by the artist with delicacy. Great attention is placed on drafting the dainty features and costumes of groups of children that clearly exist in a sphere of their own –far away from polluting London factories and the horrid realities of child labour. Such ability to recreate environments of pristine beauty and simplicity is what made Greenaway’s work so sought after in both Britain and the United States. This exhibition is drawn entirely from the Newark Public Library’s collection of illustrated books. It explores major stylistic aspects of her critical works, aesthetic choices, and the unique components of her visual language.

The books featured in the exhibition will also reflect upon the result of Kate Greenaway’s fruitful collaboration with pioneering master engraver Edmund Evans. Included are two of her most popular works Under the Window, and Language of Flowers. Also the alphabet rhyme A Apple Pie; the collection of nursery stories Marigold Garden; and the collection of games for children Kate Greenaway’s Book of Games.

Under the Window: Pictures & Rhymes For Children

Published in 1879 by George Routledge & Sons, this was Greenaway’s first book in collaboration with Edmund Evans. He used the chromoxylography technique to reproduce vivid watercolour designs featuring images of children dressed in early nineteenth-century costumes, playing and conversing in gardens and meadows. The book was an instant success, selling 70,000 copies in Britain, and 30,000 in France and Germany. This collection of simple rhymes, written by the artist herself, was well liked by young and old audiences because it captured the essence of children’s everyday life in the idealized manner most admired at that time by Victorian society.

Language of Flowers

Language of Flowers (1884)

1st edition, first print; Published in London by George Routledge and Sons. Printed in colors by Edmund Evans. (4 3/4” x 6” 148 x 116mm)

Considered her finest work, Language of Flowers was published in London in 1884. The book, lists of over 200 plants and flowers and their symbolic meaning —Elm = dignity; Peony = shame; blue violet = faithfulness, etc. We also find a selection flower-related verses, including “Daffodils” by William Wordsworth and “The Daisy” by Chaucer. Greenaway’s interest in floriography is evident throughout her work, but even more so in here. Only 19,500 copies were printed of the first edition, half of them were shipped to the United States.

 

Marigold Garden: Pictures & Rhymes

Marigold Garden: Pictures & Rhymes (1885)

Marigold Garden: Pictures & Rhymes

Kate Greenaway was one of the first women artists to achieve success in the burgeoning childhood-related markets of the nineteenth century. Marigold Garden, and many of her other works remain in print till this day. Originally published in 1885, this book contains forty-two nursery stories and rhymes, each accompanied by Greenaway’s skillfully designed illustrations. It was printed with woodblocks by Edmund Evans, faithful to the artist’s style and use of vibrant colors. The pages are populated by playful little girls and boys wearing hats, dresses and bows –always surrounded by elaborate garlands and beautiful flowers. Many of the poems in this collection are lighthearted and humorous –clearly meant to be sung or read to or by children. Some of them, like “Little Phillis” are written from the perspective of a child.

A Apple Pie

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In a letter to his friend Kate, critic John Ruskin wrote: ‘’I am considerably vexed about Apple Pie.’’ ‘’ All your faults are gaining on you.” The artist took these capricious remarks to heart, but it didn’t change the fact that her illustrated version of the popular ABC alphabet rhyme –which dates from the 1670s, is perhaps the most notable one and also the most sought after. A Apple Pie was published in 1886 and it includes twenty color illustrations. The main purpose of the book is to teach children the alphabet letters in a fun and easy manner. Greenaway achieves this by adopting a different visual language than what it’s seen in her previous works. The letters, of course, take precedence and gone are the flowery settings and bucolic landscapes.   

The Book of Games (1889)

The Book of Games

This book was published in 1889, the same year Kate Greenaway became a member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours.  At the time, however, both her health and career were in serious decline, and her work –imitated by many, still managed to capture the imaginary world of a fanciful and detached childhood.  This collection of games includes twenty-four beautiful color plates depicting the expressions and movements of carefully attired children at play. Descriptions of popular games include Musical Chairs, Hide and Seek, and Hop Schotch.

Exhibition Items